- September 03, 2011 12:00AM
HIGH in the sky, the dead crowns of the worlds tallest hardwood trees are swaying in the wind, frustrating the efforts of three-time Australian tree-climbing champion Tom Greenwood.
Using a high-powered crossbow, Greenwood has shot five arrows attached to tracer lines into the canopy of a 90m-plus forest giant, a Mountain Ash, attempting to get them over a sturdy branch. All the arrows have snapped off the line and been lost. Getting a rope set at a reasonable height can be the hardest thing about climbing tall trees. “A lot of things can go wrong,” he says. “Getting an arrow up is only the first step.”
The wind is still gusting around us in the Styx Valley, northwest of Hobart in Tasmania, as we gather in the Andromeda stand, Australia’s largest group of the world’s tallest hardwood trees. Greenwood admits defeat for the day; we’ll have to come back tomorrow.
It’s a small miracle that these trees are still here. This valley has marked a flashpoint between loggers and conservationists for decades and is a key claim for preservation under the latest Tasmanian and Federal Government forest agreement which protects high conservation-value forests.
Historically, the tallest recorded Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans), also known as Swamp Gum, was a 115m tree felled in 1880 at Thorpdale in Victoria. Today, the tallest living example is across Bass Strait. The tree, nicknamed Centurion, was discovered in late 2008 in state forest in the Arve Valley near Geeveston, about 60km southwest of Hobart, and is
the only known standing hardwood in the world measuring 100m. It is closed to visitors in spring because of nesting eagles.
The Andromeda stand is still the biggest stand of the tallest flowering plants on Earth, with three of the top five biggest hardwood trees, and more than a dozen specimens over 90m. Good fortune has seen it saved from logging since it was first identified in 1959. Even in the understorey everything is of giant proportions. The tree ferns rise 5m tall before the fronds flush sky high, blocking sunlight from reaching the forest floor. On the ground, fallen moss-covered tree trunks and limbs leave an obstacle course of rotting timber.
We make the journey into the forest the next day, with the rain cascading through the canopy. Together with fellow arborist Brett Mifsud, Greenwood has climbed and measured most of the tallest trees in this forest. Climbing involves shooting an arrow with a line over a top branch of the tree using a crossbow or giant slingshot. This line is used to pull a thicker string, and then a climbing rope, which is anchored to another tree to offset the weight of the climber. Today, after a failed attempt, Greenwood gets a fix and climbs more than 90m to rig up a descent line closer to the trunk.
Greenwood, who owns The Tree Works in Melbourne, inherited a love of nature from his father. “I did a degree in forestry and always had a general interest in tall trees, which expanded in 2000 when I was asked to measure some trees for Forestry Tasmania,” he says, recalling how the process used to involve a measuring stick and a tape measure but is now more likely to involve a laser.
Greenwood says the tallest Eucalyptus regnans today are most probably much smaller than the tallest that have existed. The tallest softwood tree, the Coast Redwood of North America, grows to about 115m.
Given time, Greenwood says, it’s possible that a hardwood eucalypt could grow to challenge the biggest of the redwoods. And if it does, he says, it will most likely be in Victoria, which is considered to have more favourable growing conditions.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
find out your own numerology at: